Photos: Scott Air Force Base serves as national hub for transport, medical evacuation
Scott Air Force Base is home to the only North American fleet of C-21 aircraft.
The jet is a retrofitted military-use version of the Learjet 35A Business aircraft. It is predominantly used for transporting high-ranking government and military officials on a moment’s notice as well as for aeromedical evacuation operations. A full-size stretcher can fit in the back of one of the planes. Base officials gave members of the media a flight tour of the aircraft on Friday.
Capt. Sidney Ganison of the 458th Airlift Squadron has been a pilot with the unit for about three years. While transporting high-ranking officials can be memorable, he said being able to work in medical operations stands out even more.
"Trying to get a member home in time to see their family because they have some sort of medical emergency or transporting a patient — those are the most memorable flights I've had,” Ganison said.
Typically, the base in the Metro East serves the majority of the continental United States — going as far as Alaska, Ganison explained. The international fleet located at Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany serves as the headquarters for the Air Force in Europe and will be deployed throughout the Middle East.
Capt. Johnny Frye, 31, who's from Milwaukee, recently made the change from being an Air Force electrical engineer to a pilot flying C-21 jets. “It’s a huge switch,” he said. “You go from doing desk work to being in the air on a consistent basis — it’s very fun.”
Frye said the first time he was in the cockpit was difficult to describe but a defining moment in his career. “It was unexplainable, because flying is not a natural thing that people do,” he said. “So when you first get into the aircraft, and your head is back on the seat, and it's a feeling I can't explain.”
Frye and Ganison were two of a three-person team of pilots last year to make history in becoming the first all African American crew to land a C-21 jet at Alabama's historic Tuskegee airfield.
In the early 1940s, the Tuskegee Airmen became the first African American military pilots in the U.S. armed forces, when much of the military remained racially segregated. Over the course of World War II, 992 Tuskegee Airmen were trained, leading to over 15,000 missions flown across Europe and North Africa.
"It was a very inspiring event," Frye said. "Just being able to see how many African American students were pursuing flying was very emotional to me just because growing up, I knew nothing about aviation. But, the fact that we were able to just make a difference and show them — hey, it's possible — was a memory that I will never forget.”
See photos from the flight tour below:
Brian Munoz is a staff photojournalist and multimedia reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. You can reach him by email at email@example.com and follow his work on Instagram and Twitter at @brianmmunoz.